Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Do Cafeteria-Style Minerals Work Better in Organic or Conventional Dairy Herds?

I have often been asked to compare results of smorgasbord mineral feeding in different situations. Since there is no clear meaning to either ‘organic’ or ‘conventional’ — my quick answer would be, “That depends.”

First of all, it is important to understand that feeding ‘ground-up rocks’’ to supplement minerals is, at best, just a band-aid. The real problems are low mineralization of feedstuffs (from decreased soil fertility) and reduced nutritional diversity (from confinement).

It helps me to envision a spectrum or range of mineralization levels in feedstuffs with highly nutritious feeds at one end and lower quality feeds at the other end. On this continuum, it is possible to plot and compare different responses to cafeteria-style mineral feeding situations.

Animals being fed nutritious, highly mineralized feeds from the top end of the range will generally have low mineral consumption or perhaps eat none at all. Many, but not all, ‘organic’ dairies fall into this category, as do rotational grazers. Minerals consumed will probably be used to correct minor imbalances rather than gross deficiencies. Many of these dairy farms will have a long record of soil building.

On the other end of the spectrum, animals in large, intensive, high stress dairy operations will normally consume more minerals to compensate for the lower mineral content of the feedstuffs. Most of their rations will be composed of feeds of variable quality purchased from various sources.

Then too, feeding a TMR often provides too much calcium and protein. Excess protein (along with high nitrates in the water) increases the need for Vitamin A. The excess calcium forces the cows to eat more phosphorus to balance the important Ca/P ratio. Stress of any kind, especially stray voltage, increases the need for Vitamin B.

When starting out, all animals will eat minerals to satisfy their daily requirements and enough extra to begin to replenish previous long-term deficiencies. Excess mineral consumption in any herd may be a sign of other problems such as stray voltage, geophysical influences, bad water m weather changes or the environment influences.

If any of these problems are present, it would benefit the dairyman to at least partially correct them before starting to feed cafeteria-style minerals.

So where does it work the best? I think it is a toss-up! The farm with fewer problems and less mineral consumption benefits from the superb animal health achieved. On the other hand, ‘conventional’ herds have more room for improvement and will be greatly rewarded as many of their problems are reduced. 

This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc Holliday's blog in May 2019.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Stable

I wrote this little essay in the early 1970’s. It was published in the local newspaper - The Chillicothe Missouri Constitution Tribune - around Christmas time of that year.

    In the summertime my stable estivates. Its life-flow is at low ebb. Seemingly dead, it is kept barely alive by the flutter of swallows’ swift wings, the scurry of mice, and the occasional intrusion of a stray cat. Except for these interruptions, its sleep is sound. The horses won’t come in, for to them the summer stable means saddles, sweat and separation from their beloved shade tree next to the pond in the upper pasture. The cattle stay away because…well, cows are beyond comprehension…they are very independent when their bellies are full of good green grass and their udders are full of sweet, rich milk to nourish the fat little darlings at their side.

    Nature can change all this in only a few hours. Her tools are snow sleet, blizzard winds, and temperatures that drop as quickly as a skier on a steep, snowy slope. Science tells us that activities slow down as the temperature falls, but then they may never have visited a stable on the magic night of the first cold snap of winter.

    Tonight was such a night. My stable was suddenly alive and I knew it even before I opened the door. I hesitated as I groped for the light-switch and stood in the dark for a moment or two to savor the scents and sounds of a stable returning to life. I listened to the soft whicker of remembrance as the horses acknowledged my entrance - my nose sensed the acid-sweet aroma of cattle’s breath. Even the penetrating odor of fresh manure was a refreshing signal that life had returned.

    I turned on the light! The suspicious calves kept darting in and out, as if unable to decide if their dam provided security enough to protect them from the unfamiliar glare of lights. The older cattle were arrogant in their unspoken demands for something to eat besides the bitter, frosted grass in the now snow-covered meadow. The soft, brown, blinking eyes of the horses were almost apologetic as they begged for sugar, or oats, or anything to show that they were forgiven for a summer of rebellion.

    It was good to have them back. After a pat for some, a soothing word for others, and a handout of feed for all, I started back to the warmth of my living room fireplace. The northwest wind was bitter cold. Even the normally boisterous Collies were well behaved as they pranced at my side. I think they sensed, as I did: “What a perfect place a stable is for the Son of God to enter his Kingdom!”

Monday, December 14, 2020

Measuring Mineral Balance

Many years ago, when I was a student in veterinary school, a blood test was developed that could detect pregnancy in sows as early as 18 days after breeding. This innovative procedure was greeting with some interest until a laconic classmate pointed out, “Or, you could wait three days and see if they come in heat!” (Note: Swine have a 21 day estrus cycle.)

I believe this is an excellent example of how our society is often enthralled with new “scientific toys” and completely overlooks the obvious lessons to be learned by observing nature.

This principle also applies to our livestock management today. Many livestock nutritionists and producers rely heavily on feed analyses, blood tests, computer generated livestock rations and force-fed total mixed rations (TMRs) — and sometimes never actually observe the animals.

From time to time, questions are raised about the need for testing along with a cafeteria-style mineral program. It is certainly possible to do this. A blood sample can reveal the presence and amount of dozens of minerals, enzymes, etc. The problem is, a blood test is a “snap-shot” of that particular moment in time. Metabolic processes are dynamic and ever changing. A test taken today may not be relevant tomorrow or next week.

It is also possible to test hair samples for mineral balance. This gives an accurate picture of the past history of mineral balance. Again, interesting but not necessarily useful. In past years the effects of annual periods of mineral deprivation were seen in the ‘rings’ on the horns of mature cattle.

In my opinion, blood testing, while valuable in some situations, is not really relevant to evaluate the need for or the response to cafeteria style mineral feeding.

The best way to assess your animal’s need for individual minerals is to just put out the full array of ABC’s free choice cafeteria-style minerals and vitamins and watch what they eat. There are no expensive laboratory fees, the results are available immediately, and the results are extremely accurate. The beauty of this method is that it self-adjusts for the ongoing changes all animals are subjected to over time.

The best test of the success of this program is the owner’s personal observation of the health of his animals and their response to the mineral program.

There is a ‘generational effect’ to this program and its effects and value increase the longer it is used. Calves born to dams who were on the program from before conception and throughout pregnancy are noticeably healthier and more productive that those that did not have this advantage.

In conclusion, I would like to remind the reader of the sage advice of Dr. Wm A. Albrecht, “Study books and observe nature. If they don’t agree, throw away the books.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

All Free Choice Minerals Are Not The Same!

Feed tags do not tell the whole story.  Two mineral tags may show the same ingredient list and guaranteed analysis and still vary greatly in cost and in nutritional performance.  You get what you pay for … cheap minerals are often the most expensive in the long run!   If you choose the wrong one you are actually setting a timer for production and reproduction failure.     


1. ABC Plus™ minerals contain DUA™,  a wide spectrum prebiotic, probiotic & enzyme product that enables your animals to efficiently digest fiber and protein in the ration and thus release the minerals and other nutritional ingredients already present in your feed for greater cost savings.  Fiber digestion provides a source of major and micro minerals in a natural chelated form. 

2. ABC Plus™ minerals contain a proprietary blend that remediates the effects that glyphosate contamination has on the safety and quality of feedstuffs.

3. Cheap sources of some minerals are not as readily available to the recipient animal.  They then have to consume more to satisfy their nutritional needs.  Excess consumption can result in mineral imbalances that lower immune response and productivity.

4. ABC Plus™ Minerals do NOT contain consumption limiters to limit consumption of the more expensive items. This is false economy as it does not allow the animals to take what they need to maintain health and sets the timer for future herd health and production problems.

5. ABC Plus™ Minerals do not contain enhancers to force consumption of some items so that they conform with University Standards for mineral consumption.  This practice forces the animals to consume an unbalanced mineral diet and also sets the timer for future problems.  

6. Cheap sources of minerals are more likely to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals. More and more minerals (less expensive but of poorer quality) are being imported from foreign countries.  Phosphorus and zinc sources imported from China have been found to be contaminated with Cadmium and have been determined to be responsible for toxic symptoms in some herds.  The best way to avoid contaminated minerals or feedstuffs is to know your suppliers and buy from a company that has a history of succes

Thursday, September 24, 2020


It is a difficult task to briefly describe “holistic” or “alternative” veterinary medicine.  The dictionary defines “holistic” as being concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with parts or divisions, while “alternative” describes something existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system.  Both definitions are correct but do not adequately address the wide variations within the realm of holistic veterinary medicine as practiced today.
The range of alternative therapies  is immense ... acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, refined colostrum products, microbial products (lactobacillus and yeasts), mega-vitamins, radionics, and many other natural products and procedures. The list goes on and on and I apologize if I’ve left out someone’s favorite therapy. Most are useful and generally effective alternatives to the drugs, hormones and antibiotics commonly used  in veterinary medicine today. 
I believe that the distinguishing characteristic of  holistic  practitioners is the way they approach problems ... in short, the way they think. A true holistic practitioner not only looks at the patient as an integrated unit but also views it in the context of the whole ecosystem in which it lives.  In this regard, a sick animal is not only a patient to be treated but is also a symptom of  a sick farm.  Both patients need help.  Any remedial action must include what is necessary for the immediate relief of the patient as well as a critical assessment of the long-term effects of the chosen therapy on the patient and the environment. Part of the treatment must also be the removal or reduction of predisposing factors. 
 A holistic practitioner should also be well versed in several treatment modalities and  be able to pick the most appropriate ones needed in any situation.   In some situations this might even include the judicious use of antibiotics, if really indicated and if it has a reasonably good chance of success. 
 Finally, a true holistic practitioner should emphasize holistic animal health management (proactive) rather than any kind of treatment (reactive), whether it be holistic or conventional. 
 It should be noted that the terms holistic and alternative are not interchangeable.  For example:  an acupuncturist may be practicing alternative medicine, but if he only treats symptoms and does not search for the cause or other useful therapies ... then he is probably not a holistic practitioner. A fine distinction perhaps, but a significant one.  

 To me, the greatest advantage to the holistic approach is that it works!  In the hands of an experienced practitioner most holistic/alternative treatments have as good or a better success rate than conventional therapy. I think this is true because holistic practitioners attempt to find and treat the cause not just the symptoms.  
 There are many other advantages to holistic medicine ... less pollution, fewer side effects, and especially the fact that holistic medicine follows the old medical axiom, “at least do no harm.”  This advice seems to have been lost or overlooked in the U.S. as evidenced by the recent report that pharmaceutical drugs are now either the 4th or 6th leading cause of death.
 Unfortunately, several factors have slowed public acceptance.  The sale and use of natural products do not generate the huge profits necessary to buy researchers, lobbyists and politicians as does the sale of  antibiotics,  pharmaceuticals, herbicides and insecticides. Thus we have little credibility in some circles because we do hot have research to back up our empirical observations.
 Because so few schools teach these advanced concepts, there are not enough qualified practitioners, although the number is growing. Those that do engage in holistic practice are often subjected to harassment by government agencies.
 The biggest disadvantage is that most people tend to use it for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time!   They will turn to alternative treatments only as a last resort when everything conventional medicine has to offer has failed. Usually by this time the patient is in advanced stages of the disease and also suffering from the side effect of all the prescribed drugs they have used. When the alternative  approach also fails, and it usually does in this situation, the patient gives up on the entire concept and never realizes that the alternative treatment might have worked had they used the right product or technique at the right time.  Unfortunately, this apparent “failure” provides more evidence for the pharmaceutical /medical complex  to ridicule and condemn  the entire concept of holistic medicine.
 The success of the holistic approach requires a change in perspective and the development of a holistic outlook towards livestock management and disease control. It is not as simple as merely substituting a “natural” alternate therapy for a  “toxic” drug. The principles behind the success of holistic therapy go much deeper than the characteristics or source of the  medication. 
 Conventional Veterinary Medicine is primarily concerned with the  treatment of sick animals.  Even if successful, the loss of life and production added to the cost of treatment makes this approach by far the most expensive.
 Veterinarians also emphasize disease prevention.  Herd health checks and vaccination programs fall into this category. As essential as these procedures are, the outlook is still towards preventing disease.  Vaccinations may increase resistance against a specific organism but does little to elevate the animal’s vitality to the health enhancement level. Typical of this category are herds or flocks where the animals are not really sick or showing symptoms but are not really well and productive either.
 A third concept, usually neglected by conventional veterinary practitioners, is that of  health enhancement through holistic management.  Everything possible is done to raise health and vitality to the highest level possible.  All management practices are evaluated on the basis of their effects on the vitality of each animal in the herd. Strict attention is given to providing superlative nutrition.  In so far as possible, all environmental stress factors are eliminated.  Water is checked for nitrates or other toxins. Housing and ventilation are maintained at optimum levels.  Any equipment with which the animals come in contact is properly maintained and adjusted.  There are literally hundreds of other environmental factors that impact animal health and they all must be considered.  When animals are maintained at a high level of vitality their resistance is much 
higher.  Health enhancement is much more profitable than either treatment or prevention.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Mineral Toxicity?

Many myths and misconceptions about cafeteria-style mineral feeding programs abound in the agricultural community. I thought I had heard them all, until I was recently confronted with the following situation.

A livestock owner who was planning to begin a self-regulated mineral program was cautioned that mineral deficient animals would tend to over-consume deficient minerals to the point of toxicity. He was advised to start out by feeding a blend of the same minerals that would be offered individually later on.

In my opinion, there are several problems with this approach.
  1. While it is true when starting a self-select mineral program some individual animals will eat an alarming amount of some products, I have never seen a confirmed case of actual toxicity when the full array of recommended minerals is provided.
  2. If an animal consumes an inordinate amount of a blend to compensate for a previous deficiency of one mineral, it is, in effect, being force-fed all the other minerals in the blend which it may not need. It is expensive to force feed minerals the animals do not need.

Here are some other key points to consider.

  • The essence of the Cafeteria style system is Choice— giving the animals the choice to exercise their innate nutritional wisdom. If you are concerned, you can start them off slower by only putting out small amounts at first and then gradually increasing the amount. That way they maintain their choice and are not forced to eat minerals they do not need.
  • When starting on a program like this, animals may eat what appears to be excess minerals because they are not only eating to satisfy their daily needs but also to remedy the deficiencies they may have experienced in the past.
  • Minerals are team players. You need the entire team on the playing field to win the game; minerals are the same way. You need to provide the full team to have a successful mineral program.
  • Feeding other mineral blends, either top-dress or in the ration, should be minimized or avoided.
  • Always provide a separate, free choice source of plain white salt.
The following incident illustrates another aspect of this ability:
Weather had made it a bad year for crop quality. In late winter, a good client called me about two problems. His cattle were eating excessive amounts of mineral, and his heifers would abort a live calf about 10 days before they were due to calve. The calf would live, but the heifer would usually die. Focusing first on his mineral problem, he decided to try a “cafeteria” mineral program in which each mineral was fed separately. He had to carry each bag of mineral through his cow-lot to get to the mineral feeder. His first few trips were uneventful. Then suddenly several of the normally docile cows surrounded him, tore a bag of mineral from his arms, chewed open the bag and greedily consumed the contents … a zinc supplement. 

Within a week after the mineral change, consumption returned to normal, and his remaining heifers calved normally. Apparently, the previous year’s stressful growing season had resulted in crops that were deficient in zinc or perhaps high in zinc antagonists. His mineral mix was high in Calcium with only small amounts of zinc. Their quest for zinc impelled them to over-eat the mixed mineral. Excess calcium interferes with zinc absorption. Every mouthful they took increased the imbalance and escalated their need for zinc. Inevitably, metabolic problems began in the most vulnerable group - young, growing heifers in the last stages of pregnancy. Finally they just gave up and checked out ... all for want of a few grams of zinc.

Check out: https://docrjhollidaydvmblog.blogspot.com/2020/08/hey-doc-my-cows-are-eating-dirt-waddya.html

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Vitality, Health, and Disease

A graphic look at Life Force, Vitality, Health, and Disease

  • The “vitality” line on the left side (looks like a thermometer) runs from “100” (Perfect Health) to “0” (dead).  Any animal’s relative health status can be plotted on this graph. 
  • The “clinical line” by definition separates healthy animals from sick animals,  based solely on the presence or absence of symptoms.  
  • The “relative profitability line” indicates a relative loss of production, profitability or performance. 
  • We know and accept that there are differing levels of illness but our management decisions frequently seem to be based on the premise that an animal is not sick unless it is showing symptoms. 
  • If an animal’s health and vitality begins to deteriorate there will be a decline in productivity or performance for a variable period of time before symptoms become evident.  The “relative profitability line” illustrates  this possibility. 
  • With further loss of vitality, the animal crosses the “clinical line” when it begins to show symptoms of disease.  These symptoms may be mild at first ... “a little off,”  ... gradually increasing in severity until  “DEAD”.  

  • Vitality chart 2 illustrates the journey of two cows as they are subjected to various influences that sap their vitality and set the stage for disease.
  • Both cows — Red and Black — are exposed to faulty nutrition, nitrates in the water, and environmental stress, and both still appear to be healthy and productive but some of their reserve vitality is used up. 
  • Finally, they are exposed to bacteria.  They both respond but to different degrees due to individual variations. 
  • Black is dangerously close to the clinical line but still shows no obvious symptoms, although a really close observer might see mild symptoms developing.  
  • In the prevention mode, the only tools in the conventional practitioner’s prevention toolbox are vaccinations and antibiotics.
  • Black dips in vitality but does not go “clinical”.  She is able to overcome the infection because she had some resistance left.
  • On the chart, Red shows a steady decline and after crossing over the clinical line, begins to show symptoms of disease. Conventional medicine would diagnose the bacteria as the “cause” of her disease. 
  • We could give Red some antibiotics and hopefully kill enough germs to get her back up over the clinical line.  Or, we could treat her with herbs, or homeopathy or whatever and probably help her enough to shut off the symptoms.  BUT, unless we eliminate the stresses that put her at the susceptible level in the first place, we have really only installed a big Band-Aid!
  • The above example begs the question: “Did the germs cause the disease? Or, would it be more accurate to ask:  “Did the bacteria trigger a disease in an animal that was already suffering from stress-induced, low vitality?”  The deciding factor was not the presence or absence of a disease organism, but the presence or absence of a strong immune system.  
  • Just because an animal shows no symptoms does not mean it’s healthy.    
  • The final stress that triggers symptoms is usually not the primary cause of the illness.   
I think we give germs way too much weight as the cause of problems. Obviously, microorganisms do vary in their ability to cause disease and a highly pathogenic organism may be able to cause disease in relatively stress free animals.  Even in those situations, well nourished, stress free animals are less likely to succumb.
In the grand scheme of things, the "bugs" are probably only doing the job assigned to them. As "censors of nature" their job is to recycle plants or animals that do not meet nature’s minimum requirements. In a dead animal we call it decomposition ... in a live animal we call it disease.
If one really believes that germs ‘cause’ disease then, by that same logic, they must believe that flies ‘cause’ garbage.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Hey, Doc, waddaya got for Mastitis?

“Hey, Doc, waddaya got for mastitis?” is a question posed by dairymen everywhere. I wish I had a good answer. Treatments range from frequent stripping out of the udder to the newest antibiotic or immune stimulant. Fortunately, many treatments are successful. But some treatments only suppress the symptoms and when the effect of the treatment wears off the symptoms return with a vengeance. Unfortunately, any success with treatment often interferes with the need or desire to address the actual cause of the problems. Holistic veterinary medicine may have some insights into this problem, insights that are often overlooked by today’s dairymen.

I think holistic practitioners approach problems with a different mindset. They try to look beyond the immediate symptoms and look for and remove any predisposing cause or causes. They view the patient not only as an individual but also as a part of the ecosystem in which it lives. Finally, a true holistic practitioner will emphasize holistic animal health management (proactive) in addition to just treating the symptoms (reactive), whether the treatment is holistic or conventional. All dairies have constraints imposed on them by natural principles and the innate nature of the cow. One can either manage according to these principles and enhance animal health and profit or disregard these principles and reap the consequences of impaired herd health. Holistic vet medicine is not about new, high technology or old, low technology, but it is about appropriate technology. It is definitely not the conventional system, minus the drugs, nor is it just the replacement of a conventional treatment with a natural remedy.

Let me give you an actual example. I recently received a phone call from a veterinarian who has been working with an organic herd that has a mastitis and high SCC problem. Milk cultures consistently revealed strep bacteria. Since this was an organic herd his treatment options were limited. He had tried various treatments including herbs, tinctures, homeopathy and colostrum whey products … all had little effect. He had consulted with an “organic” vet at a university and received the standard conventional recommendations; identify the problem animals, milk them last, sell the really bad ones and treat the rest with whatever their certifier allows. Good advice, but only a Band-aid. It manages the symptoms but not the cause. As our conversation proceeded, I asked him a couple of questions .
  • Have you checked for stray voltage?
  • How long after prepping begins are the units attached?
He had not checked those items but he did his homework and later reported that their electrician did not find any stray voltage. However, he had timed the interval between initial prepping and putting on the units to be somewhat over 4 minutes … way too long!

Most good dairymen know how important it is to properly prep cows. The best stimulus to the "let-down" reflex mimics the suckling of the offspring … warmth, moisture, some pressure or massage, and removing milk. When these or similar stimuli are applied as the cow is being prepared for milking, oxytocin is released. Within about a minute, myo-epithelial cells surrounding the alveoli contract, thus forcing milk out into the duct system. If milking is delayed much past one minute oxytocin begins to clear the system and the oxytocin reflex does not proceed to completion. If one does not "prep" adequately and does not begin milking within one minute, milk yield decreases and "residual milk" increases. As a general rule, anything that interferes with the initiation or completion of the oxytocin reflex results in excess residual milk in the udder. Residual milk is not milk that could be removed by extra stripping but milk that has not been fully expressed from the alveoli.

Residual milk provides an ideal medium for the growth of bacteria. If culturing reveals, streptococcus as the predominant bacteria there are two main areas that need to be checked … stray voltage and improper milking procedures especially prep time.

If there is stray voltage present and the cow anticipates getting shocked when she enters the milking area or when the units are attached she will be stressed and fearful. The resulting release of adrenalin interferes with the initiation of the oxytocin reflex, the animal does not ‘let-down” her milk, production goes down and residual milk is increased. If cows are jumpy in the barn or have a high incidence of strep mastitis it is wise to check for stray voltage. If you can measure it, then take steps to get rid of it. The results will speak for themselves.

If milking procedures are not choreographed to insure that milking units are attached to the cow and taking away milk within about 60 seconds after the start of prepping the oxytocin reflex will be impaired, residual milk will increase and thus ‘open the door’ for strep mastitis.

Here’s another example. An older couple was milking cows in a double 12 parlor that had been built when the kids were helping with the dairy. The kids were now gone and the dairyman fed and cared for the cows and his wife did the milking. They were plagued with strep mastitis. They had tried a multitude of antibiotics and many natural products without much success. I visited the dairy at milking time and watched the milking routine. With only one person milking they would load only one side of the parlor with 12 cows. Then this wonderfully meticulous lady would thoroughly wash and prep all 12 cows before attaching the unit to the first cow prepped … about 12 minutes later. I was able, after a time, to convince her to adjust her routine so that each cow had a unit attached in about 60 seconds after prep started. In only a few days their strep problem was much abated.

Many factors are involved in managing and treating mastitis. In the above instance the overriding predisposing cause was failure to understand and conform to the basic physiological makeup of the cow. When that was corrected the problem corrected itself. In addition to the most obvious predisposing factors, we also need to consider anything that puts the animals under stress or depresses the immune system. No treatment will be really effective until the cause is removed or reduced.

“So, Doc, waddaya got for mastitis?” Oddly enough, if the cause of the problem has been removed, the same natural therapies that did not work before will probably now be effective. Colostrum whey products, acupuncture, tinctures, herbs and homeopathy are all effective when applied by knowledgeable practitioners in herds reasonably free from stress.

The thoughts expressed here are my opinions based on almost 50 years of experience in veterinary medicine, both as a conventional veterinary practitioner and as a holistic dairy consultant. I know some folks will disagree. That is their privilege. I only try to explore options from a holistic mindset and then look for confirmation from the real experts … in this case the animals in our charge. If we are attentive in our observations and interpret what we see with a holistic mindset we can learn a lot from cows. And always remember,
“No problem can be solved until all it’s causes are understood.”

Originally printed in the June 2007 issue of the Progressive Dairyman. Used here by permission.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Adaptation Curve

On one of our recent trips, we drove past a large confinement dairy. My wife, Ruth, opined that those poor cows probably never had the chance to eat grass in a pasture. She was correct. Organic dairies require some access to pasture but others do not. Some dairy cattle can spent their entire short lives eating only the ration prepared for them.

It’s a funny thing, though, if cows that have never grazed are suddenly turned out on pasture, they generally do not do well — at least for a while. The cows have to go through what Dr. Provenza calls an “adaptation curve” — a variable time period of higher stress and lowered productivity while they adjust to the new situation. In other words, it takes a while for them to learn how to eat grass.

I believe recognizing adaptation curves is an essential part of a holistic outlook. Here are a couple of examples.

Feed flavors derived from what Mom eats are present in the amnionic fluid surrounding unborn calves and in the colostrum milk consumed by newborn calves. Newborn calves are slow to eat feeds that do not match these previously encountered flavors. If a dairyman wants to get his baby calves off to a good start, he should make sure the mother cow’s ration in late pregnancy contains some of the ingredients - feed flavors - that will be present in the ration first offered to the calves. This avoids the unwanted effects of the adaption curve.

Individual cows and groups of cattle that are moved from one farm to another experience an adaptation curve. The stress of moving can exacerbate dormant health and production problems. Anticipation of these effects and timely remedial action can be of great benefit.

This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc Holliday's blog on June 4, 2016

Monday, August 17, 2020


In 1951 I had the good fortune to study the rudiments of soil science at the University of Missouri under the late Dr. William Albrecht. I must confess that at the time I took his course, I did not fully appreciate the correlation between soil fertility and animal health. I wanted to get on with the real veterinarian’s job of treating sick animals. It was only after I had completed my animal disease education in Veterinary school and began to receive my animal health education from some dedicated “organic farmer” clients that I came back to Albrecht’s work and finally began to understand his wisdom.

His book “Soil Fertility and Animal Health” 1 is still a classic, and should be required reading for anyone aspiring to be a holistic herdsman. As one could guess from the title, his premise is that it takes a fertile healthy soil to grow healthy nutritious crops to sustain healthy productive animals or people. Incidentally, soil vitality and crop or feed vitality, as well as animal vitality can be plotted on the “Vitality Chart” discussed in the previous issue.
Stated another way, an animal can only be as healthy as the feed it eats and the feed can only be as healthy as the soil upon which it was grown and the soil to be healthy must be highly fertile and biologically active. Within the broad framework of this concept, in this article I would like to illustrate four main points.
  • Good nutrition can prevent disease.
  • Good nutrition can cure disease.
  • Nature is a better judge of nutrition than nutritionists.
  • Healthy production is the most profitable.

Good nutrition can prevent disease
.. most of the time, but not always!

Another candidate for a required reading list is the book “An Agricultural Testament” by Sir Albert Howard, published in 1940.2 Sir Albert was formerly the Director of the Institute of Plant Industry in Indore, India and the British Agricultural Advisor to States in Central India and Pajutana. This book is the summation of decades of his work to improve soil fertility and plant and animal health by composting agricultural residues and returning them to the soil. It is also reputed to be one of the sparks that inspired J. I. Rodale to begin publication of the great magazine “Organic Gardening and Farming”.
Most of this work is related to soil fertility and the intricacies of composting, but I would like to quote one paragraph that forever changed the way I looked at animal health and disease.

My work animals were most carefully selected and everything was done to provide them with suitable housing and with fresh green fodder, silage, and grain, all produced from fertile land. I was naturally intensely interested in watching the reaction of these well-chosen and well-fed oxen to diseases like rinderpest, septicaemia, and foot-and-mouth disease which frequently devastated the countryside. None of my animals were segregated; none were inoculated; they frequently came in contact with diseased stock. As my small farm-yard as Pusa was only separated by a low hedge from one of the large cattle-sheds on the Pusa estate, in which outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease often occurred, I have several time seen my oxen rubbing noses with foot-and-mouth cases. Nothing happened. The healthy well-fed animals reacted to this disease exactly as suitable varieties of crops, when properly grown, did to insect and fungus pest -- no infection took place.”

Once my mind was opened to the possibility that good nutrition could prevent disease I found evidence of it almost every place I looked.

Good nutrition can cure disease
... often but not always!

Eugene M. Poirot wrote a book in 1950 called “Our Margin of Life”. 3 This book details his experiences in the restoration of soils and the health benefits to animals when fed crops grown on high vitality soils. His son-in-law, a veterinarian who practiced in the same town as I did, confirmed the accuracy of this account, here quoted from Poirot's book.
"Once Bang's disease, which causes abortion, was so serious, and the blood test showed so high a percentage of infected cows, that the entire herd was threatened with liquidation. Fourteen years later, another test of all animals, including both the old infected cows and their offspring, more than four hundred head, failed to show a single reactor or suspect. When Bang's disease is transmitted to humans by cows or their products it is called undulant fever. In this case it was controlled at the soil level in some yet unknown way, long before it had a chance to reach a human as undulant fever.
A significant part of this story is that early in the restoration period this disease was eradicated by blood-testing cows and selling all reactors and suspects. The herd was clean for a period of three years. Then the infection hit again in January, when an immediate blood test disclosed only six head of reactors or suspects. These were sold at once, but by June the infection had reached eighty percent of the cows!
So none were sold, and soil restoration was continued. In two years calf crops became normal again.
Later, blood testing became required by law, but no reactors or suspects were found in any of the tests, nor has the disease reappeared after thirty-five years, even though all animals are offspring of infected cows, born on once infected pastures and living in an area where Bang's disease was present on other farms before blood testing eradicated it.
I don't know how to "cure" these many diseases - but Mother Nature does. That is why I like to give her the "tools" and keep her on my side."

Nature is a better judge
of nutrition than nutritionists
... if the proper choices are available!

My good friend and client Carl lived down the highway about 3 miles from our home. He was a good farmer and dairyman who milked about 30 cows. My vet calls to his place were mostly for routine jobs like dehorning or vaccinating with an occasional milk fever or dystocia. His cows were well cared for and healthy. For many years he supplied our family with fresh milk right from the bulk tank. One year inclement weather made planting and harvesting hay and grain crops a great gamble with the result that feedstuffs that fall and winter looked good but had low nutritional value. By late winter Carl consulted me with two seemingly unrelated problems. One, his cattle were eating almost 2 pounds of a mixed mineral per head per day! Two, about 10 days before they were due to calve, his heifers would abort a live calf. The calf, with some care, would live, but in spite of all we could do the heifer would die within two or three days. After the third one in a row had died, I did what every smart vet would do ... I passed the buck and sent a dying heifer to the University Vet School for autopsy. Their diagnosis came back as starvation! Carl took good care of his animals and was feeding them almost all they could eat. This diagnosis was like an insult to Carl and difficult for either of us to accept. We could have accepted a diagnosis of malnutrition because of the poor crops that year but starvation seemed a little too harsh.
We then turned our attention to the mineral consumption problem. Available in that area at that time was a “cafeteria” mineral program in which each mineral was fed separately on the theory that each animal could then eat only what it needed to balance it’s own needs. Carl decided to try this program. His mineral feeder was in the middle of his cow lot and he had to carry each bag of mineral through the lot to empty into the feeder. Things went well for the first few trips and then suddenly several of the normally docile cows suddenly surrounded him, tore a bag of mineral from his arms. chewed open the bag and greedily consumed every bit of the mineral, the bag and even some mud and muck where the mineral had spilled out ... astounding behavior for a bunch of tame dairy cows!

What was in the bag, you ask? … a source of the trace mineral, zinc. During the next several days they ate several bags of this zinc source while completely ignoring all other minerals. Gradually they began eating normal amounts of the regular mineral. From that day on his heifers calved normally and things gradually returned to normal.
Apparently, the difficult growing season had resulted in crops that were deficient in zinc or perhaps high in zinc antagonists. The basic mineral mix had a small amount of zinc in it but to get the zinc they needed, they had to consume large amounts. This gave them too much calcium. Calcium interferes with zinc absorption, which in turn increased their need for zinc. Even though their quest for zinc impelled them to eat the mixed mineral, every mouthful they took increased the imbalance. Inevitably, symptoms began to show up in the most vulnerable group ... young heifers, still growing and in the last stages of pregnancy. Finally they just gave up and checked out ... all for want of a few grams of zinc. The decrease in feed conversion associated with zinc deficiencies coupled with the poor quality feed would result in malnutrition even when feed intake appeared to be adequate. I realize that other secondary factors may have been involved here, but the main factor was a zinc deficiency as evidenced by the remission of symptoms when zinc was supplied. (See "Zinc" side bar).
Carl had done as good a job as he could with the knowledge that was available at the time. When the essential ingredients were finally provided so that the animals could make their own choice, they picked out what they needed to regain their health. For me this incident epitomizes the concept that, given the chance, animals can balance rations better than computers or nutritionists can.
Many nutritionists tend to discount the ability of animals to balance their ration, asserting that by the time they feel the need to eat a certain item they are already in a deficient state. From their point of view, I suppose they have a point. The fallacy in their reasoning may be that they expect the animal to choose for the level of production that man desires while the animal chooses only what it needs to be healthy.
Healthy production is the most profitable...in the long-term,
if not in the short-term!
Many years ago I was associated with a feed company that formulated and sold premixes for dairy cattle. It was a good feed, based on “natural” ingredients and principles. Many of the users commented on the superb health experienced by the animals on this program ... better reproduction, less mastitis, low cull rate. healthy calves, low vet bills etc.

The down side was that production, although profitable, did not reach the high levels they had come to expect when feeding a more “conventional” ration designed mainly to increase production. Many dairymen who switched to such a feeding program often saw their production increase dramatically.
Unfortunately, in most of these cases, it wasn’t very long and problems began creeping back into the herd ... cows didn’t come in heat like they should, conception rate when down. There were more cases of mastitis, calves didn’t do as well, vet expense increased, more cows began leaving the herd for health reasons. Eventually even production began to slide. The short-term higher production had been gained only at the long-term expense of lowered herd health, proving that old saying “there is no free lunch”.
There does seem to be a level at which animals can maintain health and have profitable production. The animals on the “natural” feeding program had achieved this happy state and the overall financial benefit associated with good health more than overcame the lower production and slightly higher feed costs. When a herd like this is switched to a “conventional” program concerned mostly with high production the increased production and slightly lower feed costs usually do not make up for the increased costs of poor health.
See everything you look at!
The above experiences, along with many others, confirmed for me what Dr. Albrecht, Sir Albert and Mr. Poirot had discovered years before. Building on the foundation they had provided, I subsequently learned a lot about nutrition and animal health just by paying attention to what animals ate and the effects on their health. You, too, can prove these things to yourself, by doing the same thing. I remember Dr. Albrecht saying, “Study books and observe nature, if nature and the books do not agree, throw away the books.” I agree.

1. Albrecht, Dr. William Albrecht,  Soil Fertility and Animal Health. Fred Hahne Printing Company. Webster City, Iowa. 1958, Has been reprinted as Volume 2 of a 4 volume set, "The Albrecht Papers", available from ACRES U.S.A., P.O. Box 8800, Metairie, LA. USA (505) 889 2100.
2. Howard, Sir Albert, An Agricultural Testament. Oxford University Press 1940
3. Poirot, Eugene M. Our Margin of Life. Acres, U.S.A. Raytown, MO 1978

Stress (including parturition) appears to increase the zinc requirement of animals.
Zinc is required for the incorporation of cystine into keratin and thus plays an important role in maintaining hoof, horn and skin integrity.

Zinc plays an important role in wound healing, immune function and disease resistance. Some studies indicate that the first symptoms of a zinc deficiency is a decrease in immune function and a decrease in feed conversion.

Zinc plays a role in vitamin A transport and utilization and appears to play a role in vitamin E absorption. Reproductive performance after parturition improves with both zinc and vitamin E supplementation in late pregnancy.

High calcium and iron intake (including Ca and Fe in water). will increase the zinc requirement.
Deficiency symptoms may include general listlessness, poor growth, stiff joints and unthrifty appearance, hair loss, general dermatitis of head and neck and failure of wounds to heal properly.